The Great Atuin : a Wooden Discworld Cake Stand and Serving Platter




Introduction: The Great Atuin : a Wooden Discworld Cake Stand and Serving Platter

About: 1) I am perpetually bored. 2) I like to learn new stuff. 3) I like to create things that make people say "Ooo, that's cool!". These things combine (not to form Captain Planet) but to send me out constantly see…

Several months back, some very dear friends of mine told me that they were getting married.

First, they asked me if I would do the wedding (i.e. marry them) and second, if I would be willing to cater her bridal shower. The first caused me a bit of panic (I had never done a wedding before) but the second request I could wrap my head around ( I've catered her last two murder-mystery-dinner-theater-birthday parties). Since I tend to dote on her a bit (and I like to show off) I started planning dishes early.

A few months later, as I was wandering around a local store (Target), I happened upon some white ceramic elephants.

"Hmm," says I to myself, "we could do something with these".

"Why yes. Yes we can."

You see, my friend is a huge fan ++no, no, wait, let me put this correctly++ A HUGE FAN of Terry Pratchett's Discworld series (She even got to meet him before he passed. She actually got to "stand guard" while he did autographs -she had gone to Disc Con dressed as Angua, from the City Watch).

++RIP Sir Terry, you will be genuinely missed.++

This was just supposed to be a simple serving platter. The four elephants were going to stand on a large, round platter supporting another, smaller platter on their backs (see second and third photo).

That's it.

And then another friend, Doc, got involved and it...grew.

Woof, did it grow.

The whole kit ended up including the Discworld, carrying bags, a table /storage box and a few other, turtle shaped, cake stands. And then it all went to them as a wedding gift.

All told, this project took around two months. Mainly because I'm easily distr-...oh, look, shiny! Where did I put my hat? Mm, cake. What's on T.V.? Highlander? Sweet!

Er, right, sorry. Anyhow.

This is my first Instructable. So...brace yourselves, this could get messy.

Step 1: Gird Your Loins and Gather Your Supplies

"Gird your loins". Heh. Makes me giggle.

A quick word on the wood used. It's pine, nothing special there.. And depending on how much money and/or patience you have, you can either buy some of those pre-made edge glued boards that most larger "home improvement" chains carry, or edge glue some boards yourself (and sand, oh, the sanding). The size depends on how big you want to make this. In this case, the Disc is 12 1/2 inches across and the body of the turtle is approx. 20 by 26. The shell is an 18 inch, pre-cut round from either Lowe's or Home Depot (can't remember which).

You will need, in no particular order.

  • Wood for the Disc. 14x14x1 (Inches, sorry) And yes, you can use a pre-cut round here, too.
  • Wood for the shell. 18 inch precut round.
  • Wood for the turtle's body. 20x26x1
  • Stain. I used two different shades. One in the medium range ("Early American", Minwax) and a dark one ("Espresso", also Minwax).
  • India Ink. Yep. After dozens of trials and errors (many, many errors), India ink worked the best. I used brown, sepia, and black. This is for the detail on the shell and the head and flippers.
  • Elephants. Four of the wee, little buggers. (Bonus points if you can name them.) These I got at Target. If that's not an option for you.... Look around till you find something you like. At some point, I want to make some out of wood. If you make some, yourself, I'd love to see.
  • Wooden dowel. I added these (as you'll see) to help stabilize the elephants. You'll need approx. 4 feet total.
  • A lazy Susan. Yep, the disc actually spins. This is not a requirement, of course, but...let's be honest, the disc has to spin.
  • Wood glue.
  • Some wood screws. I used two different kinds. Five 1 1/4 inch Kreg type wood screws and three 3/8 inch finishing screws.
  • Polyurethane. I used both gloss and semi-gloss. But if I had to pick just one? Gloss.
  • Felt. Both two small sheets of crafter's felt and several felt tabs, (the peel and stick kind).
  • Glue. Either some spray glue, or you could probably use the wood glue from earlier. This is for sticking the crafter's felt to the bottom of the lazy Susan and to the bottom of the elephants.


  • A scroll- or jig-saw. I didn't have one, but fortunately, the instigator (Doc) has one.
  • A band saw. This assumes you cut the circles yourself, instead of buy them.
  • Circle-cutting jig. Check out Linn's over at Darbin Orvar. She has an awesome one, which I intend to build (someday). Actually, she is awesome. Seriously. Check out all the things she does.

  • Router with a round-over bit. I like the 1/4 inch, but a 3/8 would work well.
  • Drill
  • Driver bit (to set the screws)
  • Drill bit (for countersinking the screws)
  • Drill bit (for setting the dowels)
  • Wood-burning tool.
  • Sand paper. Lots of sand paper. I used 160, 220, and 400.
  • A palm sander probably wouldn't hurt, especially if you glue the boards yourself.
  • Paint brushes. One or two larger ones (for the stain). One small one (also for stain) And two or three small ones for finer detail (India ink).
  • A pencil.
  • A few rags. For the staining portion.
  • Scissors.


  • A map of the Discworld. This is if you want to be authentic. I just went online, found one I liked and played with it in Paint until I got what I needed. I have the poster-sized one, but I found it to be a bit...unwieldy.



According to the state of California, everything will kill you or give you cancer. Seriously, everything. Well, duh. Life is dangerous.

Just be safe and don't do anything stupid. Read all the warning labels. Follow the warning labels. The best advice I've seen lately came with my new trim-router's instruction booklet. It said something along the lines of: "It must be understood by the operator that common sense and caution are factors which cannot be built into this product, but must be supplied by the operator."

Pretty much says it all right there.


Step 2: Doing Things to Wood. Things, I Tell You.

I'm not going to spend a great deal of time on this step. As I told Doc, he does art in wood, I do art on wood.

The two rounds will either need to be purchased or cut. There are quite a few 'ibles that cover cutting circles out of wood, so I won't go into it here. Though, if you will take a suggestion, cut the smaller one and buy the bigger one. The store bought ones tend to be thicker (actual 1 inch as opposed to 3/4 inch) and are already rounded off. The "shell" looks better if it's thicker.

In either case, take the larger circle, "the shell", and lay it on top of the board that you will be using for the turtle's underside, "the body". Trace the circle onto the wood and try to get it as tight as possible. The body should, ideally, be just a tad bit smaller than the shell.

Set the shell aside.

Draw on the head, the flippers, and the tail. Sorry, I don't have something for you to download, here. It's basically a sea turtle. We (Doc and I) just looked at silhouettes of sea turtles online and played with it a bit. I added a photo to give you an idea.

Now comes the fun part of cutting the turtle body out. Sorry, no pictures of this. I was too busy making sure I ended this procedure with the same number of thumbs I started with (see previous warning statement).

Next: sanding. You'll want to get the cut edges fairly smooth at this point, not "finish" sanded, yet, but cleaned up a bit. If you went too fast while cutting (like I tend to) you'll have quite a few blade marks to sand out. Also, if you elected to glue the boards, yourself, sand the glued areas as needed.

Routering. Doc has a router table, which I used. Since then I've picked up a fairly inexpensive trim router for around $30. (Funny thing, the bits cost more than the router)

Using a round-over bit, I routered the top edge of the disc and the top side of the body, but only around the head, the flippers, and the tail. No real need to router the rest, as it will be under the shell.

++I should point out that you don't absolutely have to use a router. The rounding-over could be done by hand using a small planer and/or some aggressive sanding. I freely admit I'd rather use a power tool, whenever possible.++

And then I sanded some more, 'cause, well, sanding.

Once everything is nice and smooth, move on.

Step 3: Draw! and Draw. and Draw a Bit More. No! Erase! Erase!

Now, like at the beginning of any other great adventure, its time to pull out a map and a pencil.

Actually, what we're going to be doing is drawing where we'll be burning later. All three pieces of wood will get a little bit of each.

The body will need some detail work on the head and flippers. The head I did looks a little "snake-y", but its okay. You can do better. I know you can.

The flippers needed some, I guess you would call it "armor plates" on the leading edges.

For the shell, I referred to pics and drawings I found online. I drew the outer circle first, and lines for each of the plates. The center row of the back plates was a series of hexagons. Then I drew lines joining the two.

Oh, and don't forget to add a few meteorite "pock marks" on the turtle and shell. I just randomly drew on some circles of varying size. Maybe ten or twelve. None more than 3/4 inch or so. Then I erased the plate lines inside the circles.

For the disc, as mentioned earlier, I went online and found a fairly clean image of the Discworld Mapp. I then pasted it into Paint (not the best, I know, but it worked okay for this). I cleaned it up a bit, resized it to fit, and printed it out. A little tape (because it took more than one page) and it was ready.

++Something else to point out. This isn't my map. It is based on Terry Pratchett's work. I just looked around online until I found one that someone else had done that was less cluttered than the official Mapp and then I cleaned it up a bit more. Going this route just saved me some time.++

To transfer the map to the disc, I taped the paper down to the disc and went over each line with a ball point pen, pushing down fairly hard. This puts a bit of an indention in the wood that made it easier later when it came time to use the wood burner. For the "sunken islands" I did a series of dots, instead of a solid line.

I used a purple pen to do the transferring. Two reasons. One, it was what I had on hand without going and actually looking for another one. Two, it helped me to see what I had already gone over with out pulling up the paper (at least that's what I told myself later).

Step 4: Burn, Baby, Burn. Artistically, That Is.

Now it's time to burn it all. Not like, burn burn. Pyrography burn.

Take your time here, and go over each line carefully. You want a nice even burn. Not too dark, not too light.

Take breaks. Seriously. I'm fairly certain I slow cooked my finger doing this. It was sore for two days. But, then again, I can be fairly obsessive when I'm on a roll. Probably just sprained it.

But I smelled delicious.

You may notice, in the pics, that I "burned" the turtle body a bit. I actually used my crème brulee torch for that. The reason being, originally there was going to be a much larger lazy Susan between the body and the shell, and the whole thing would spin, elephants and all. I decided that would look odd, so I rummaged around till I found a smaller one that I could use on the disc.

Once you get all the lines burned in, it's time to....

Step 5: Take a Break. Because, Why Not?

You've been cutting and sanding and drawing and burning for some time now. Take a break and step back. Look the whole thing over. Tweak it, if need be. Did you miss an island or two?

Take pictures. Show it off a bit.

Maybe get a cup of tea. Eat a burrito. Take a nap. Watch a movie.

I've been working my way through Highlander: the Series. And Animaniacs. Pinky and the Brain.




Moving on....

Step 6: Stain, Stain. Go Away, Come Again Another.... Wait, No.

Time to stain. You might want to use gloves for this. I usually do. And an old, crummy shirt. As it is, I tend to get stain...everywhere. I got it on my ear one time. How do you stain on your...oh. Right. Glasses.

Everything will now get a coat of the lighter colored stain. All three pieces. Use a large brush. One of the foam ones works. You can sometimes get a pack of them fairly cheap. I think I got a 20 pack for around $4.

Brush it on, wait a moment, wipe off the excess.

Give it a good, even coat all over. Top and bottom.

Let it dry. Thoroughly.

Step 7: More Stain. a Darker Stain. Not the Stain We Want, But Maybe the Stain We Need. Bat-stain.

Round two of staining. Technically this is "detail" staining. Painting with stain?

We're going to use the darker stain, now. And one of the smaller brushes. Go ahead and write "stain" on the handle, if you want. It'll be pretty much useless for anything else, after this.

We're going to be working on the disc, now.

++You may notice, in the pics, that I did the dark stain first. I found that if you do the dark stain first, after you apply the lighter stain, the dark fades a bit. It more thins out, really. I ended up having to go over it again. No sense doing more work than we have to.++

Take your time, and be careful. Paint the stain on the continents.

Have a bit of rag gathered up in your off hand to wipe off the excess. Should you drip on the lighter area, if you move quick you can wipe it off and it won't show. Another reason for doing the lighter stain first.

Do the coastline, first, then fill in the rest of the landmass.

This time, after applying the stain, you'll want to wait a few moments before wiping off the excess. Just to let it set in fairly well.

Set it aside to dry.

Step 8: Shell 'er? I 'ardly Knew 'er.

It's now time to do the shell and the turtle body. Both will use the same technique of applying India ink to the stained surface.

Pull out the India ink and the small brushes. You could probably use just one brush if you rinse fairly well between colors.

We're going to go in this order: brown, sepia, black.

Using a small brush and light strikes, start at the burned-in line and feather a brushstroke towards the center of each shell plate, getting smaller with each color layer.

Do all of one color at a time. That way, if you need to touch it up a bit before moving on, you won't need to redo another color, as well.

Step 9: Glue It and Scr-. Wait, That Sounds Wrong.

Now that the three wood pieces are stained, inked, and dried. It's time to put the turtle together.

Sorry there's not a lot of pictures at this stage. I suffer from a condition called "getting ahead of myself". I understand it's treatable if you have a camera that works more than half the time.

I found it a good idea to mark on the underside of the shell where the front was. This helped to align the shell to the body. So, mark the shell and set it aside for the moment.

Now to pre-drill the underside of the body. Flip it over and mark where you want to drill (see pic). This won't need a lot of screws, maybe four or five. Truthfully, since we're going to glue it as well, three would be sufficient. But since we're here, may as well do it right.

If you have a counter-sink bit, use it. I don't. Instead I used a small bit as a pilot, followed by a 3/8 forstner bit, going just deep enough that the screw-head sets below the wood.

++I would recommend putting the screws at the cardinal points (front, back, each side) because later we will be drilling into the shell from the top-side. Drilling into wood and hitting a screw is considered a "bad thing" in certain circles.++

Lay the shell on it's back, apply the glue and align the body to the shell. Screw it together.

Step 10: The Elephant Club for Men. I'm Not Just a Member, I'm -oh, Peanuts!

Send in the elephants.

You may be wondering why the four elephants are all different colors on the final product. I can't really give you a good answer. It seemed like a good idea at the time. Turned out okay, so....

I actually used wood stain on them, followed by a spray sealer. The ceramic was unfinished, so it took the stain fairly well. They have since been changed (at the store) and now come sealed. So, if I use them again, I'll have to use paint. Maybe a dark grey?

One thing I worried about was the elephants could get a little wobbly with the disc on their backs. I tossed around a few ideas until I noticed the holes on the bottom of the elephants.

"Hmm", says I to myself, "we could use that." -Yes, I know I talk to myself a lot. I talk to the cat, too, but she rarely answers beyond an occasional "Feed me, fool."

I measured the holes and found a dowel that would fit. In this case, I used 5/8". To determine the length needed, I slid the dowel into an elephant as far as it would go and marked where it hit, then added an inch. Do this for the front and the back and you now have the two sizes you need. Cut four of each. Sand the dowels so they will easily fit into (and be removed from) a drilled hole of the same size.

Take one of the elephants and stand it up on a piece of paper. Trace around the feet. Holding the paper in place against the elephant, lift both up and mark the center of each hole. Cut out the two ovals, keeping a strip of paper between them to hold them together and poke out the hole, so you can mark through it. This will be your hole drilling guide.

Set the Discworld up, as shown above. Once everything is level (you'll have to shift it around a bit), use a pencil to mark where the elephants are.

Using your handy-dandy drill guide, mark where the holes will be. Drill a one inch deep hole in each spot. Eight in all. Test each hole with a cut dowel and sand as needed. You want them snug, but not so tight that they can't be easily removed.

If you would rather drill a shallower hole, that's fine, just trim the dowels according.

One thing, you may want to wait to mark and drill the holes until you've attached the lazy Susan. I noticed, myself, that it didn't effect how the disc sat on the elephants because their backs sloped, slightly. But, a simple placement test may be in order. Just in case.

Step 11: Give It a Coat or Two. or Three.

Now that we've got the elephants as stable as elephants ever are, it's time to seal the wood.

Follow the directions on the polyurethane. Do a coat, let it dry, sand with 400, repeat.

I found it looked best with at least three coats.

And, of course, I prefer high gloss. At least for the visible areas. If you want, you can use a matte or semi-gloss finish for the undersides (which is actually what I did).

++One thing to note, though. Be careful of drips. When I did the disc, the first time, I noticed quite a bit of run-off had gathered on the underside. It was like little polyurethane icicles. Not good. I found it best to run a dry (ish) foam brush around the edge of the underside a few times right after doing the top. It helped.++

If you wish to use something other than polyurethane, go right ahead. I'm not even going to pretend I'm an expert on wood sealants (not even for comedic effect).

Step 12: Felt It Up.

Time to put on the lazy Susan (if you're using one) and some felt tabs in various places. You may have noticed I put felt tabs on the backs of the elephants. I noticed, early on, that the disc tended to slide around. The wood slid too easily against the ceramic. So...felt tabs to the rescue.

++One felt tab applied to the back of each elephant solved a lot of slippage. This, along with felt on the bottom of the disc (or lazy Susan) pretty much stabilized the disc for most uses.++

I also felted the bottoms of the elephants, so as to keep from scratching the finish on the shell.

In the case of the crafter's felt, I sprayed glue onto the surface (lazy Susan or elephant feet), set it on the felt, waited until dry, and then cut away the excess.

I also put several felt tabs on the underside of the turtle body. One over each screw hole and one under the head and each flipper. Add more if it seems wobbly.

Putting the lazy Susan on the disc will depend on the type you have. The one I used I've had for years, I couldn't even guess where I got it. It was two pieces of plastic that could be popped apart. I separated the two pieces and drilled a small hole in the center of one piece. I then lined up the hole with the center hole on the bottom of the disc and temporarily attached the piece to the disc using a screw.

Once I had it in place, I drilled three small holes, equidistant around the circle, being careful not to go all the way through. I then put in the short screws (3/8in) to permanently affix the lazy Susan. I then had to pull out the guide screw so I could reattach the other half.

Step 13: Put It All Together. Use It. Show It Off. Taunt People, If You Want.

Time to put it all together.

This picture sequence shows setting up the Discworld on the table/storage box I built to accompany it. Also pictured are the additional cake stands. The smallest stand is actually a support I did up that fits just under the disc to help support it, in case something larger (like a wedding cake!) is going to be placed on the disc.

I was trying to get a photo of the Discworld being used as a cake stand at the wedding reception before posting this, but so far nothing. I should have taken one, myself, at the time, but I was a bit busy filling the roll of the minister.

Yep. I ending up going online, getting ordained as a minister, and doing the wedding.

And, if you were wondering, I started it just like the wedding on Princess Bride "Mawidge. Mawidge is what bwings us here toogevver today."

But this one really happened; they both said "I do."

Step 14: In Conclusion....

This was an interesting (and often frustrating) project, but it was done out of love for a friend. I left out the three weeks of trial and error involved with wanting to have color on the disc (blue oceans, green forests, white tundra). None of them worked (I figured out how to do it the day after I gave in and went with the stain, of course).

Will I ever do another? -Maybe. I already have the pieces cut out, so... probably.

Will I ever do something similar, using the same techniques? -Already done so, and if I can gather more pics, I may post it (I'll give you a hint -it was for the groom and it involved dice).


I hope you enjoyed this, my first, Instructable. I hope to do more as time rolls on.

If you have any questions (or I was too vague on a step), please ask!

Keep creating,

The Innkeeper (and now Minister)

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    19 Discussions


    4 years ago

    Great stuff! Did Lady Sybil get one yet? Seriously well done, I'm sure even Vetinari would approve...

    The Innkeeper
    The Innkeeper

    Reply 4 years ago

    Funny thing. The groom looks like Vimes, the bride was recently used as the inspiration for Angua in an upcoming Discworld graphic novel. One of the bridesmaids cosplays as Cheery Littlebottom. And I look far too much like Sgt Colon for comfort.


    Reply 4 years ago

    It could be worse .. you could bear a striking resemblance to Corporal Nobby Nobbs *shudder*


    Reply 4 years ago

    Now that's a nice coincidence - the City Watch are my favourite bunch from the entire series!


    4 years ago

    i really love this piece, you did an awesome job!!!!


    4 years ago

    As long as you serve a treacle filled fifth elephant cake with it, I'm all on board. Looks great!


    Reply 4 years ago

    Oh, I forgot, "Buggerit! Millenium hand and shrimp!"

    The Innkeeper
    The Innkeeper

    Reply 4 years ago

    OH! Genius! I need to make a hat with a duck on it!


    4 years ago

    Love it! Your writing cracked me up. :) Voted for ya

    The Innkeeper
    The Innkeeper

    Reply 4 years ago

    Thanks. I always enjoyed reading the funny Instructables, so I figured "what the heck". And I'm a bit silly, anyway. Glad you emailed me, or I would have never thought to look at the other contests.


    4 years ago

    Aahhh! Too long, can not read, brain will explode.

    Brilliant. Love it. Someday maybe I'll able to concentrate long enough read the instructions and see how it was made.

    the binks
    the binks

    4 years ago

    Awesome project.
    De Chelonian Mobil !!!!

    The Innkeeper
    The Innkeeper

    Reply 4 years ago

    Thank you. When I did the inscription on the bottom, I made sure to include "The Turtle Moves".


    4 years ago

    Great instructable.


    4 years ago

    "Truth, Justice, Freedom, Reasonably Priced Love, and a Hard-Boiled Egg!"

    wow. I am truly impressed. Great job.

    The four elephants are:




    Great T'Phon

    but let us not forget the unnamed fifth elephant .. source of the best BCBs

    The Innkeeper
    The Innkeeper

    Reply 4 years ago

    Thank you!

    Mmmm. BCB's, the only thing that made my time in the Schmaltz mines bearable.


    4 years ago

    Very cool project! Thanks for sharing and welcome to the community!